To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Thursday, 31 May 1877.
My dear Theo,
It’s already late and everyone is already asleep, but I feel the need to write a few words to you again. You must persevere – you must go onward – as I must, too – we’re going through the same ordeal in many respects.
In your last letter you write that you were thinking about moving elsewhere if possible, and you mention London and Paris.
That might be good – oh, old boy, how deeply I love those cities, that’s to say I love much of what one meets with there, there’s also much that I hate – or at least don’t love as much as the hedges of thorn-bush and the green grass and the little grey churches. What you’re thinking of is not bad at all.
Be aware, though – we must both make sure that we survive the time between now and the age of 30 or so – and we must beware of sin – after all, we’re in the midst of life – well then, we must fight a good fight – and we must become men – which we aren’t yet, neither of us – there is something greater in store for us, my conscience tells me so, we are not what others are – well then, but we can endeavour to become so. You know what I want. If I may become a clergyman, if I fulfil that position so that my work is equal to that of our Father, then I shall thank God. I have good hope that I shall succeed, it was once said to me by someone who was further on in life than I, and who was no stranger in Jerusalem – I mean someone who had sought it himself and had also found it; it was once said to me: I believe that you are a Christian, you see, it was so good for me to hear those words. You too hold fast, no matter what you wish for yourself, to the thought of Christ and keep His saying, as you do. It is good to believe that there is a God who knows what we need, better than we know it ourselves, and who helps us when we need help. It is also good to believe that, just as in the olden days, now, too, an angel is not far from those who feel godly sorrow – not only from those who are almost angels themselves, but especially those who need help from a higher power to keep them from evil, from the evil that we know is in the world and not far from us, not far from those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. I’ve carefully read the story of Elijah so often, and so often has it given me strength up to now:
And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an Angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the Angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God. And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And He said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts. And the Lord said unto him, ‘Go, return on thy way’.
And that story does not stand alone, we read of the Angel who strengthened Him in Gethsemane, who was sorrowful, even unto death, of the Angel who woke Peter from his sleep in prison, of the Angel who appeared to Paul in the night and said ‘Fear not’. And we, although we saw no Angel, although we are not the same as those men of old, should we not know that there is strengthening from Above?
This afternoon it was stormy and rained here, and I walked to the sea past the Jewish cemetery, a few days ago I also went for a walk there on Buitenkant near the Oosterspoor, where they’re working on the sand works &c. What a beautiful and heartening story that is too, the one about Jesus walking on the sea, Matthew XIV:22-33, And straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Believe in God, through faith one can become ‘sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’ and evergreen and we need not complain ‘if our youth disappears at the maturing of our powers’.
Herewith something by Esquiros, I wish you the very best, write again soon, give my regards to your housemates and any acquaintances you might see, and accept in thought a hearty handshake, and believe me
Your most loving brother